When people call Michael Reagan the “adopted” son of a beloved former president and an academy award winning actress he cringes a little.
As Reagan says in his book, “Twice Adopted,” the word is accurate, but it implies a lesser status, as though he almost counts as the couple’s real child.
When Reagan was just three days old future president Ronald Reagan and his wife Jane Wyman made him part of their family in California. They adopted him from a young, unmarried woman named Irene Flaugher who had named him John. Along with the couple’s biological daughter, Maureen, Reagan enjoyed the benefits of a privileged upbringing.
In his books and on his recently ended radio talk show Reagan has spoken of how becoming part of the Reagan family and subsequently suffering through his parents’ divorce sent his life on an emotional roller coaster.
Today, through the eyes of his Christian faith, he sees that the hand God guided his steps, and he takes that message to audiences around the world through speaking engagements and through the work of his non-profit organization, The Reagan Legacy Foundation.
As one might imagine, he has a soft spot for orphans.
“America isn’t taking care of them very well,” said the 65-year-old father of two, speaking on the phone from his home in Los Angeles.
Reagan recently talked to the Daily Journal about adoption, as well as about his current work and about his famous father as a prelude to an Oct. 20 event at St. James Catholic Church in Tupelo.
He’ll be the keynote speaker at a fundraiser for Tupelo-based New Beginnings International Children’s and Family Services, a non-profit Christian adoption agency that has placed over 500 children from the U.S., as well as from western Europe and Asia, in new homes.
“God used adopted children to accomplish wondrous things throughout the Bible,” said Reagan, referring to passages in the New Testament, such as Rom. 8, and Gal. 4: 4-6, where scripture speaks of God’s spiritual adoption of humankind.
Each year in the U.S. over 300,000 children are taken out of their homes in the middle of the night and placed in foster homes. “By the time a kid ages out of the system at 18, he’s probably gone through 15 homes,” said Reagan. “And people wonder why these kids are angry.”
Reagan was fortunate to be adopted so young, but not even the comforts of love and money could free him from the insidious anger that haunts many orphans. To make matters worse, he was sexually abused by a camp counselor when he was seven.
After decades of psychological agony Reagan dedicated his life to Christ in the mid 80’s and since then he’s been on a mission to combat the societal ills that affected his life.
“Forty million children go to bed each night in this country without a father in the home,” he said.
A member of The Church on the Way in Los Angeles, Reagan doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to his own religion. He’s as anti-abortion as the staunchest evangelical. Each year he celebrates the life of his birth mother, Irene, on the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, praising her for making the tough decision to give him life. But while many evangelicals make abortion, along with homosexuality, their champion causes, Reagan speaks passionately about the devastating effects of divorce and the church’s silence on the matter.
“When was the last time you heard pornography addressed in the pulpit?” he asked. “Churches are so busy doing outreach that they’ve forgotten to do in-reach, and kids in their own pews are suffering devastating effects.”
He’s disappointed churches aren’t taking as big a role in the adoption business as they did 20 years ago. “It has a lot to do with the court system, and politics is a part of it, too,” he said. At speaking engagements he challenges churches to resume their involvement.
New Beginnings, the agency on whose behalf Reagan will speak on Oct. 20, is endorsed by the United Pentecostal Church which has been a leader in facilitating adoptions for decades. The church also endorses the Tupelo Children’s Mansion, a residential group home that since 1953 has provided both short and long-term care to children in need of a safe environment.
When Reagan gives political speeches he opens by saying that his father, beloved as he was, would not have been conservative enough to win the Republican presidential nomination in 2008.
For one thing, although President Reagan attended church and was a spiritual man, he didn’t wear religion on his sleeve. Today, many see the Family Values Movement, also called the Religious Right, as a close partner of the Republican Party.
Reagan points out that in the 80’s the Religious Right gravitated toward his father, not the other way around. Values voters saw in Reagan qualities they admired.
“He would certainly have been comfortable with religious people admiring his policies and supporting his positions,” said Reagan. “But, no, he didn’t wear it on his sleeve.”
President Reagan was an upbeat political figure, a coalition builder and a man who could vehemently disagree with someone without demonizing them. Reagan is convinced that his father’s ebullient persona wouldn’t play well in what he described as today’s strident political climate, one in which politics has become “personal,” and “everybody has their own fiefdom.”
In June Reagan walked away from his radio talk show, partly because, as he put it, “I didn’t want to have to be belligerent and aggressive in order to get ratings.”
He’s noticed a strange phenomenon taking place in the cult of personality that’s grown up around his father, one that has theological undertones.
“Many people, including many conservatives, just don’t get him,” said Reagan. “Like Christians sometimes do with God, people tend to recreate my father in their own image.”
Contact Daily Journal religion editor Galen Holley at 678-1510 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michael Reagan event in Tupelo
There is a short waiting list for tickets to an evening with Michael Reagan, including a banquet, at St. James Catholic Church in Tupelo on Oct. 20. There is also a short waiting list for the special reception
preceeding the banquet, tickets for which are $1,000 for two people. To inquire call 842-6752 and leave information. This event benefits Tupelo-based New Beginnings Children’s and Family Services in Tupelo.
Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal